Running Injuries Explained And Overcome

A round-up of resources on injuries, including what is an injury, how we can best recover from one, and what they mean in our lives.

By on January 31, 2018 | Comments

If you run for more than a couple years, you’re likely to face injury at some point. That injury could be traumatic or due to overuse. It could be dehabilitating or a mere inconvenience. If and when you experience an injury, you are not alone. Running injuries are extremely common. As evidence, a full 20% of iRunFar’s 4,000-plus articles make mention of injury.

With injuries being such a large part of life as a runner, we thought it appropriate to collect the most useful of our articles on the subject. Below, we lay out articles that outline what an injury is and how to recover from one, as well as share the most poignant anecdotal observations from our writers.

To keep things manageable, this article does not collect iRunFar’s many other articles addressing specific injuries. For now, you can search for such info in the upper right corner of the website.

What Is an Injury?

Joe Uhan’s Anatomy of a Running Injury Part 1 and Part 2 are the foundational articles on running injuries on iRunFar. In Part 1, Uhan lays out how physical forces interact with human tissue in all the iterations of normal and abnormal forces as well as normal and abnormal tissue. In Part 2, he dives into how to fully and effectively treat a running injury… which I’ll summarize a bit more in the Injury Recovery section below.

A few years later, Uhan followed up his ‘Anatomy of a Running Injury’ pieces with The Remodel Project: An Inner Look at Injured Tissue Healing, in which he lays out how the body properly and, sometimes, improperly heals itself and how we can best guide ourselves through that process.

While Ian Torrence’s Injury Recognition, Treatment, and Recovery could go into any of a number of categories in this article, I feel it’s best placed here for its succinct analysis of whether or not you’re injured. In the article, Torrence lays out three considerations in determining whether or not you’re injured, each of which he more fully explains in the article:

  1. The act of running should not be a painful activity.
  2. Understand the difference between adaptive and restrictive damage.
  3. Running shouldn’t negatively affect the other aspects of your life.

Torrence’s article also delves into what to do if you’re injured, what treatment requires, how to know when you can start running again, and what to do if you’re continuously sidelined.

In Painting Bridges: Chemical Stress in a Running Injury, Joe Uhan discusses how chemical stresses from running contribute to overuse injuries. While he uses several extended analogies in the colorful article, he boils it down to the following bullets before going into how to reduce these chemical stresses:

  • Cortisol is a second-level hormone that is activated by moderate- to high-intensity stress. These can be both real–like races, hard workouts, long runs, heavy strength training, and any moderate- to high-intensity exercise including non-impact cross training–or perceived–such as psychological or emotional stress (work, relationship, family stress).
  • Cortisol helps prioritize survival by mobilizing fast-acting fuels, producing an ongoing (and, on the short-term, inexhaustible) source of fuel.
  • In that process, cortisol breaks down key structural elements (muscles) for fuel.
  • To save resources for exertion, it curtails any tissue healing (muscle, bone) and immune-system function.

In a self-explanatory article, Uhan’s Three Laws of Running Injury sets forth these three rules:

  1. Every running injury invariably changes the way you run (The Pain/Brain Law).
  2. For every injury action, there is an equal, and opposite reaction (Uhan’s Second Law of Motion).
  3. A runner’s mechanics, without energy input, will devolve to greater and greater disorder until it reaches equilibrium–and they stop running (Uhan’s Law of Running Thermodynamics).

Joe Uhan also wrote a pair of articles that delve into what ‘pain’ is as a distinct concept from injury. In Navigating the Pain Trail – Concepts of Pain Physiology in Running Injuries, he lays out what pain is (information), where it originates (the brain based on sensory input), and how it correlates to actual tissue damage (poorly!). In his follow-up article, Navigating the Pain Trail – Tissue Sensitivity, Defusing the Threat, he addresses both the physiology and the psychology behind pain versus tissue damage. To the extent that pain is incongruous with injury, Uhan explains how to distinctly manage pain in Pain Management in Three Steps: Mechanism, Trajectory, and Action.

Injury Recovery

I consider Joe Uhan’s The Economics of Injury Recovery to be one of iRunFar’s core articles. Its simple premise of revenues and expenses works well when it comes to the body, injuries, and recovery. He writes, “We live in world of economics, so balancing black and red is a simple concept for most. In the health realm, we commonly utilize the economic model of ‘calories in, calories out’ for weight management. While overly simplistic for both, the same concept can be applied to tissue tolerance. Each and every activity has its cost, and is deducted from the tissue’s fitness ability, or revenue.”

Uhan also dives deep into injury recovery in Anatomy of a Running Injury – Part 2, mentioned earlier. In the article, he looks at three factors–mechanical, neuromuscular, and motor control–that play a role in running injuries before summarizing:

  • When injured, be sure to consider all three factors: Mechanical, Neuromuscular, and Motor Control.
  • Insist that your sports-medicine professional closely examine your run mechanics. If they won’t or if they don’t have that skill set, find someone who does. It may be the most important thing you do.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of rest and gradual build-up in your return to training. Even perfection on irritated tissue can perpetuate pain.

In The Fall Guy: The Long Term Treatment of Trail Running Trauma, Uhan tells us what we can do after taking a hard fall on the trails. This includes assessing acute injuries from a fall as well as the long-term aftermath, as well as how to speed your recovery.

Additional Big-Picture Injury Articles

Injury Anecdotes and Perspectives

Call for Comments

  • Which injury resources on iRunFar have you found most useful?
  • What injury obstacles have you overcome and how did you do it?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.